We have to confess that we have a bit of a soft spot when it comes to alpacas (just look at their fluffy faces). So we jumped at the chance to tour TOFT UK’s alpaca farm with founder Kerry Lord this Wool Week.
Kerry grew up on her family’s alpaca stud farm in the picturesque Warwickshire countryside, but only founded the company in 2006 when she returned from university in the middle of shearing season. Looking at the 150 fleeces filling every surface, she decided to turn it into yarn herself and assembled a group of knitters to create their own products.
Eleven years and four books later, The Toft Alpaca Shop has evolved into TOFT UK. It now offers alpaca wool spun from the animals on the farm, as well as sheep’s wool, workshops, knitting and crochet patterns and kits, and an onsite shop. Here Kerry reveals what it’s like living on a working farm and why picking up a crochet hook for the first time changed her business forever…
Hi Kerry! So, how did you become an alpaca farmer, yarn supplier and crochet genius?
The business began in 2006, with the first couple of small-scale batches of yarn made from the fleeces of the TOFT herd of alpacas. Since then, the business has steadily grown to become a market leader in luxury natural fibre knitting and crochet kits. TOFT yarn and my pattern books can now be found on the shelves of independent and department stores around the world, which I’m very proud of.
Can you describe your farm and the workspaces?
I live at TOFT HQ where I work too. I have a conventional desk in our open plan company office, which I share with my colleagues. Due to how creative we all are in our roles, this can sometimes look like quite a cluttered space to the non-crafty eye!
I’ve also got a private office in the house, where I can work on new ideas and store my own personal stash of yarn. In addition, I have a working studio space where we teach workshops and people can come and visit the shop. I sometimes enjoy working in this space too – it houses all my Edward’s crochet samples, and can be a very inspiring space to go and sit in to crochet a few rounds surrounded by tonnes of yarn.
What are people’s reactions when they see your farm for the first time?
They love it, like we do. For me, it’s important that people can enjoy visiting the HQ and leave inspired and enthusiastic about what we do.
What does your average working day look like?
It sounds cliche, but I truly don’t have a standard working day. I still work throughout all areas of the company. This means that my working week will cover design work and crochet, hands-on shop display, social media, editorial writing for our magazine and website, and of course plenty of number crunching and spreadsheets.
Does all your wool come from your own alpacas or do you source extra?
Our story began with the fleeces of our own herd, and each year we still turn our fibre into an exclusive batch of pure alpaca yarn, but for the last five years I have principally worked in sheep’s wool rather than alpaca. TOFT is committed to manufacturing our yarn in the UK. As the business grew and I exhausted the supplies of alpaca, I turned to alternative luxury wools rather than moving our processing out to Peru. Our pure wool yarns are super soft and characterised by a broad natural colour palette.
Where do you go for inspiration?
I continue to be inspired by others’ stories of what my patterns have meant to them. I love seeing photographs on #edsanimals and #edsdolls of completed projects heading off to their new homes and making people happy. The process of making means different things to different people, and can bring joy, hope, comfort and focus. I know that my patterns have helped lots of people through difficult times in their lives and that’s very humbling, motivating and inspiring.
You run lots of workshops here, tell us more about them…
We host most TOFT workshops at our HQ and they run every weekend of the year. We’ve got a friendly teaching style and delicious handmade cakes and coffee. Plus, each member of the TOFT team is a creative expert and extremely knowledgeable about what we do.
You can also now host a TOFT crochet workshop in your own home through our TOFT advocate network of trained experts throughout the country. This means you to get the full expertise and experience with all of your friends and family, so it’s perfect for parties.
You’ve got lots of crochet books under your belt, but how did they first come about?
My Edward’s… collections began when I was nine months pregnant and I decided to distract myself from returning to the office by learning to crochet. Within hours of mastering the double crochet stitch I had completed Bridget the Elephant, and a new very exciting chapter in TOFT’s history began. Edward’s Menagerie changed everything and TOFT has now become associated with crochet as much as knitting. I have just launched my fourth book, Edward’s Crochet Doll Emporium, which is very exciting!
What’s the best thing about running your own creative business?
The best thing about being a creative and running your own company is that you can have an idea and then develop it really quickly from concept to product. I also love the freedom to market and sell our products creatively, from social media and shop display, through to collaborations and video.
And the worst?
The hardest thing is making enough time for yourself. With a young family and busy creative company, it can sometimes be tough to ensure that I get five minutes ‘off-duty’.
Name three things you can’t live without?
Coffee for having ideas, Sharpies for sketching them out and cable ties for making them a reality.
What’s been your proudest make?
My proudest make to date has to be my self-named Kerry the Chameleon crochet pattern, designed to showcase and launch hand dyed yarn at TOFT.
What does making mean to you?
Making means personal creative and productive time away from a screen, whether I’m crocheting, cooking or doing any other craft.